An excellent article in First Things by Susan Cushman of Memphis, TN begins:
Standing before the icon of Christ in the front of St. John Orthodox Church, I prepare to offer my confession at the Sacrament of Forgiveness. The Holy image of the One Who Forgives comes forth to meet me, as the father comes forth to welcome home the prodigal son in the familiar gospel passage (Luke 15:11–32). The love of Jesus pours forth from his prototype (the icon), sees the offering of my broken heart, and raises it to the heavenly realm.
After receiving the priest’s counsel and absolution, I remain in the nave (the large part of the temple, called the sanctuary in Protestant churches) to give thanks and to let God’s grace and peace fill my heart. Surrounded by icons of Christ, his Mother, the angels, saints, biblical scenes and church feasts, I think about how Prince Vladimir’s envoys must have felt when they walked into Hagia Sophia Orthodox Cathedral in Constantinople near the end of the tenth century. Their mission was to find a religion that Prince Vladimir could embrace and offer to the people of Russia. In their report they said, “We didn’t know whether we were in Heaven or on earth.” Shortly thereafter, Orthodoxy became the official religion of Kievan Russia, infusing the lives of peasants and princes, artists and writers, with the Orthodox vision of beauty. Nine hundred years later, the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky penned the famous words, “Beauty will save the world.” [MORE]
A friend asked me about Icons, and this is the first in what probably will be a series about Icons over the next several weeks in response. I don’t believe in “reinventing the wheel.” If someone has written well on a topic, I’m perfectly happy to refer people to their websites or articles or books (etc.). So I refer you to the article above. It is a very good beginning!
And, by the way, in case you are interested, my favorite Icon is the Harrowing of Hell or the Anastasis:
In this Icon, we see Christ at an eternal moment during His Eternal Resurrection – between the Crucifixion and His appearance to the Myrrhbearing Women. He has descended into Hell and destroyed the very gates of Hell – you can see the broken gates on which Christ stands, and the bits and pieces of the hinges and locks scattered about. Satan, bound, gnashes his teeth beneath the doors. Christ, surrounded by a nimbus of Heavenly Light reaches down and pulls Adam and Eve out of their graves which have broken open. On either side of Christ are Old Testament Prophets and Kings looking on. They, too will be pulled from Hell. Notice the mountains. The double rocks at each shelf and peak are the “hills clapping their hands” in joy.
There are various “versions” of each icon dependent on the geographic area, the style school of the iconographer and other factors. The particular version of this Icon that I am totally in love with is to be found in the Cathedral of the Theotokos, Joy of All who Sorrow in San Francisco, California. It is a huge fresco, found over the right-hand side of the Iconostas. Impossible to take an adequate picture of it. It is similar to the icon above, but Adam is looking ever-so tenderly across directly at his wife, Eve, and is reaching out his right hand to her as Christ is grasping his left hand – as if to say, “please, don’t forget to take her, too!” Eve is looking down in humility, as Christ takes her right hand in His left hand, simultaneously lifting them both out of hell and into the immutable Light of the Heavens. How I wish I could have a reproduction of that Icon in my Icon Corner!!